Monday, March 22, 2010

From keys to strings

I recently had my first musical instrument lesson in four years since my last piano lesson when I was a junior in high school. After speaking with Liz Shaw, the Blue Eagle violin and banjo instructor, for my last post about the music store, she offered to give me a complementary violin lesson. Surprised by her generosity, I jumped at the opportunity.

Even though piano will always be my main instrument, I have been intrigued to learn to play the guitar or the violin. The few times I have tried the guitar, my fingers have not had the stamina to hold the strings down. I figured the thinner strings on a violin would be easier for my fingers to handle. With this thought in mind, I purchased a violin in December of 2007.

My Violin

My Barcus-Berry ChromaticAE Acoustic-Electric Violin

I decided to attempt to teach myself how to play using a self taught book. I seemed to get the hang of it for a short while, but soon lost motivation. Learning only children songs as opposed to the experienced songs I knew on the piano left me frustrated, only to find myself back on the keys in my comfort zone. Ever since then, I barely touched my violin.

Shaw’s lesson was an eye-opening experience for me. Not only did I get to hear her play with amazing skill, but I was reassured that learning to the play the violin was something I could actually do with proper instruction, determination and available time.

Shaw began our lesson with the basics, such as the proper way to hold the violin and bow. Then she broke down the notes on each string. This is one thing that was always difficult for me to grasp. On a piano, one key equals one note. On a violin, each string holds numerous notes, making it a challenge to remember where each note is. Shaw simplified this concept by starting with a G scale. Breaking the strings down, made this foreign concept more understandable.

My half hour lesson with Shaw flew by. I was left wanting to learn more; wanting to play more. In the future, I hope to continue lessons with Shaw if I can find the time between classes and work.

I will continue to update on my violin learning process when it occurs. If you have had a unique experience with learning to play an instrument, please share!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blue Eagle Music: A musician’s center

Whether you are looking for music equipment or a space to learn an instrument, the
Blue Eagle Music store is an excellent place to visit.

I originally found the Blue Eagle when I was looking for a place to get my violin restrung after breaking a string while tuning it. Even though right on Court Street, I had never noticed this music store and all it has to offer.

View The Blue Eagle in a larger map

Open for almost 40 years, the Blue Eagle offers musical instruments, accessories, lessons and repairs. Walking in for the first time I was taken back by all of the guitars hung from the wall in a space I had never even known about.

-The Blue Eagle offers a unique set of guitars available for purchase.

Frank McDermott, the owner of the store since 2006, greeted me attentively to fix my broken violin string, despite my novice mistake of tightening it too tight. McDermott said he has been playing guitar since he was 15 years old and loves all of the cool guitars at his disposal in the store.

Jody Schawb, a Blue Eagle employee explained that people mostly come into the store for supplies, such as amps, cords and strings. One of the most unique aspects of the store, however, is that not only do they offer music supplies to customers, lessons are offered to learn to use those supplies in the studios below the store.

After speaking to some of the instructors from the Blue Eagle, depending on the instrument you wish to learn and the type of teaching style you prefer, there is definitely a lot they have to offer.

Liz Shaw, offering fiddle and banjo (clawhammer style) lessons since the fall, has been instructing off and on for 27 years.

Describing a typical lesson, Shaw said, “First we begin by warming up. We will play something that’s familiar. I like to teach new techniques every lesson. Then we work on building repertoire; giving them more and more songs to play. I am a stickler for playing scales because the fiddle has no frets and I like my students to play on pitch. I teach a lot by ear and try to customize each lesson depending on the level of the student.”

Shaw is the fifth generation of musicians in her family and learned traditional music passed down in her family since she was 13 years old by ear. After winning a lot of folk music contests as a teenager, people started seeking Shaw out to teach them; consequently, starting her musical instruction.

With a total of 18 students, Shaw said she teaches a large age group ranging from her youngest of 5 years old to even a few college students. “I have a lot of beginners who don’t even know how to hold the instrument; but, also I have professional violists who just want to learn folk styles,” Shaw stated.

-Liz Shaw has been instructing her 5-year-old student, Jessica Roback,
for two and a half months.

Andy Fox, a recent OU graduate, is the bass instructor at the Blue Eagle. Fox sticks to an informal teaching style, completely by ear. Fox stated he has always been told he has a good ear for music. With his teaching, Fox tries to figure out how he developed that good ear and how he can pass it on to his students. Fox believes that because music today is less structured since the days of classical music, that teaching by ear is most effective, especially because the bass is all about feeling. To stress the importance of a musicians ear, Fox made the analogy that painters paint what they see, while musicians play what they hear.

The first lesson with Fox is free, in which students are asked to bring a CD to listen to, so Fox can get inside the students head. Sending students home with homework after each lesson is not on Fox’s to-do list. “Music is not something you should be tasked with,” said Fox.

In a relaxed environment, Fox instructs his students by ensuring they have fun. “After seeing the potential the student has, it’s my job to tap into that,” Fox said. After the student has been playing for some time, Fox even brings his students to his band, The Midnight Drivers, practices so they can follow the chord production and the drum beat.

Another bass instructor at the Blue Eagle, along with teaching guitar and mandolin, Ethan Greene, also the previous owner of the store, has had overall around 2000 students throughout his 43 years of instructing.

Greene adjusts his teaching style based on each particular student. “Every person will learn a little bit differently,” Greene said. Like Fox, Greene teaches with a system where there is no testing. Greene’s favorite part about instructing is being with people, making connections and sharing music. “It’s not about the printing of the music; it is the feeling of the music that matters,” Greene explained.

From the abundant amount of music supplies and lessons offered, the Blue Eagle meets the needs of anyone interested in learning an instrument and those who have been playing for years. After finding this unique music world, I never thought I’d be so happy to break a string on my violin.


Song of the Week: “Sing My Lonesome Away” – Matt Wertz (A taste of folk style in this popular artist’s music)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A look-back at a local Athens band before their current success in LA

My freshman year I remember seeing a student band open for Matt Wertz in Baker Center Theater called Urban Transit. It was a nice surprise since I was only really there to see Matt Wertz. After enjoying their music so much, I made an effort to see them play other times around Athens. Noticing that I haven’t heard about any of their shows recently and knowing that the lead singer had graduated from OU, I set out to find where the band is now.

I spoke lead singer, Dante Brunetto, who graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism in June 2009, to see what the band has been up to and what it was like to be in a band in college. Originally starting the band in high school, you may have seen Urban Transit the past few years at places like The Blue Gator, Donkey Café and the Front Room.

-Dante Brunetto playing solo at the Front Room in the spring of 2008

The band is composed of Joey Brunetto (Dante’s older brother) on drums, James Loy on guitar, Brett Dugan on bass guitar, and Dante on vocals, guitar and piano.

Our Q&A session follows:

Q: How did you come up with the name of your band, Urban Transit?
A: Our guitarist, James Loy, and myself were hanging out one afternoon, throwing around ideas for the band name when he blurred out "Urban Transit." I immediately wrote it down and loved the vibe. It made me think of everyday life, the journey we all take as human beings and the experiences we encounter on this journey. So we let the name soak in our minds and ran it by our friends and family. After about a week, we all still really liked it and decided to go with it. It definitely wasn't an easy process though. The music itself comes much easier than all the marketing and image building things that bands go through during that initial, developmental stage.

Q: How would you describe the sound/genre of your music?
A: For songwriters, I think categorizing or generalizing your music is one of the hardest things to do. The most common question I get from people when I say I'm a songwriter is "what genre?" or "who do you sound like?" For me, the best part about songwriting is simply creating something new. I have such a wide range of influences spanning from Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble to John Mayer and Jason Mraz. All of the things I like most about these different artists end up coming together to form my style.

Q: What do you like most about being in a band?
A: The best thing about being in a band is the same best thing about being on a team. It's all about working with people with whom you share a common bond and a passion for your craft. We all have this feeling that we were born to play. You just know when something feels right and that's the feeling we all get when we're up on stage doing our thing.

Q: What challenges have you experienced as a member of a band?
A: The biggest challenge we've faced as a band is distance. We all attended different schools and had to meet up on the weekends in Columbus. From there we would travel together to what ever city we were playing in that night. We never had time to rehearse either. Our shows basically were our rehearsals so we rarely got the chance to work in new material, which was always frustrating.

Q: What instrument do you like playing the most and why?
A: I was always drawn to the piano because my father was such a great player, but I've kind of taken the guitar on as MY thing. I love the rawness of sitting on the edge of my bed with a guitar in my lap and just letting the rest flow from there.

Q: What is your favorite part about the Athens music scene?
A: My favorite part about the Athens music scene was the fact that it was always my good friends in the crowd. No one is more supportive or cheers louder for you than your best friends. They showed up every time the band came to town and always made it a memorable night.

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?
A: My family has always been my biggest inspiration and the reason my brother and I started playing music in the first place. My father was a fantastic pianist and an even better jazz organist. His twin brother is an amazing drummer and the leader of a 16 piece big band that my father also played in when he was alive. They brought the gift of music into my life and for that I will forever be thankful.

Currently, Dante is out in Los Angeles writing, recording and performing his music. He is happy to be growing as a person and songwriter, just as he did during his time as an OU student. He looks forward to coming back to Athens when the time presents itself for another memorable performance.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Studies reveal that music is linked to the brains processing of words

The article in the Toledo Blade’s print edition dated February 21, 2010 from the associated press titled “Study reveals music carries brain power: People with impaired speech able to sing” offers an interesting scientific discovery that words and music are linked in the brain. The article describes cases in which music has assisted individuals with speech disorders.

The most interesting part of the article is the discovery that people suffering from loss of speech due to severe strokes on the left side of the brain are able to sing the words they wish to say. This point hits hard to home for me because both of my grandparents suffered from strokes. Although, deceased now, my grandpa could barely formulate the words he wanted to say. This caused him much frustration. I would be interested to see now after reading this article if he would have been able to sing. Unfortunately, this is too recent of a study to test it out on him.

The article reports that Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University said, “…studies show musical training enhances the brains ability to do other things.” This relates to the idea that people who play an instrument do better in academics. I agree with this theory because music challenges me in a different way than anything pertaining to academics. I think a large benefit of playing an instrument is the focus abilities I have acquired.

If music can be used as therapy when it comes to helping those with dyslexia or autism and those suffering from strokes, improving the accuracy of speech would be an enormous obstacle that could be conquered.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The inspiration behind writing music: a beginner’s attempt

Please listen to the podcast below while reading this post. What you will hear, which is my third attempt at song writing, is far from good. I would like you to listen to it, however, to share what song writing has been like for me, a beginner.

From my experience, actually being able to write music is a completely different challenge than just simply being able to play music by reading sheet music. In my nine years of piano lessons, I never branched out to attempt to write my own songs. Doing so always seemed like a cool idea; I mean who doesn’t wish they could be in band jamming to their own music? I could never, however, bring myself to write songs, maybe because I was never sure how to go about it.

It was not until two years ago, in my freshman dorm that I tried writing my own music for the first time. Why did I decide to do this? The inspiration to write actually emerged from a relationship gone wrong. Emotions and stress seemed to be the driving force. From this, I discovered that much of what music writing is all about is expressing emotion through sounds other than human speech. Even though my song did not have lyrics, the combined sounds produced the feelings I wanted to express.

Writing the few songs that I did, served as an outlet to release what I was feeling rather than saying what was on my mind through words. I know all of this may sound cliché or “emo” like, but a main reason we listen to music is because we can relate to what the song expresses. Knowing this, we can conclude that the writer writes what they do because they know the audience can connect with it.

With out my need to release emotion, I don’t think I could have ever begun writing music. It was not any formal process, more so me just sitting at the piano randomly playing chords to try to piece together the sound I was reaching for. Eventually, when I would hear a measure I liked, I would repeat it again and again, and then continue on to slowly add the rest of the song to completion.

Nothing of what I have ever written is good enough to take seriously; however, my attempt has allowed me to see music in a new light.

I would like to hear your thoughts on how you go about writing music. What inspires you?


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Live music venues in and around Ohio

The Athens music scene is always very lively; however, local acts make up the majority of performances. Not to far from Athens, you can find performances by non-local artists at nearby live music venues. Looking to get out of Athens and see your favorite artist perform? Check out these different places to find where you can attend your next concert. The map below pinpoints the major concert halls in and around the Ohio area. Each offers different types of performances to please a variety of music tastes. Some are farther than others, providing different types of trips out of Athens depending on what you are looking for.

View Live music venues in and around Ohio in a larger map


Song of the Week: “The Adventure”: Angels and Airwaves (Will be performing at Lifestyles Communities Pavilion April 22, 2010)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What exactly is music literacy?

After thinking about the last sentence in my post titled, “
High profile music journalists from the surrounding Ohio area speak with OU students” I have pondered what music literacy actually means. The panel of music journalists stressed that music literacy is the key. But what are they actually talking about?

Before the topic of music literacy was discussed by the panel, my impression of the phrase related more so to the understanding of sheet music or actually knowing how to play an instrument. Maybe my opinion is biased because I am a musician. The panel, however, did not mention these qualities. They focused on the idea that music journalists should be familiar with the music industry, its history, and where it is going, to be musically literate.

To gain a better understanding of the phrase “music literacy” I spoke to Dana Stewart, one of the panelists from the Columbus Metromix, again to dispose of any confusion. Stewart agrees that some understanding of music theory is to some degree important. “You'll have more to write about and have more to talk about in an interview. On the other hand, I don't think it's good to write too much with a music theory emphasis because it can get too technical and wordy,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s friend, Allison Smith, who was an OU music major felt music literacy refers to the ability to read sheet music because the word “literacy” literally means being able to read.

“An understanding of music literacy in the sense that my friend said is these days being pushed more and more to the side because rock music isn't based on sheet music as much as classical music was. That's why I think it's not the right word or phrase for what we were talking about,” Stewart explained.

By combining the comments made by Stewart, the other panelist and Smith, music literacy can encompass an understanding of the history of rock music along with music theory to enable a music journalist to report as best as possible the sounds they are hearing.

As an OU alumna, Stewart diversified herself by taking a history of rock class, a jazz history class and folk music history class along with piano classes and choir participation to feel more equipped as a music journalist.

Stewart commented, “I think it helps a music journalism career if you've at least dabbled with some sort of instrument because I think it gives a person a better appreciation for how much work it is to write a song and then to play it, record it and then tour or make a profit off of it.”

Defining music literacy is some what of an ambiguous task, as we have seen from the different viewpoints of Stewart, the rest of the panel and Smith. The important part to take away from this deliberation, however, is the idea that to be an effective music journalist, the combination of music theory basics and knowledge of the history of music can enhance the way we write about music.